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From the Marbles

HOT/NOT: Earnhardt Jr. continues his Slip ‘n Slide streak

Geoffrey Miller
From The Marbles

It's Tuesday, meaning that most fans who attended Saturday night's race at Kentucky Speedway should be arriving home within a day or two. To welcome them back, here's a look at a weekend in the Bluegrass State.

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NOT: Suddenly, 2011 Dale Earnhardt Jr. is finishing very much like the 2010 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bad luck struck late in Saturday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky when the No. 88 blew a left-front tire just after exiting the pits for the planned-to-be final time. The tire demolished his left-front fender (in a completely and utterly beautiful car painted similar to Darrell Waltrip's old Mountain Dew car) and demolished his hopes to bang out a top-15 finish.

Earnhardt finished 30th, his fourth-straight finish of 21st or worse. For comparison, Earnhardt had finished outside the top 20 just once this season prior to his current slide after wrecking late in the Daytona 500.

All is certainly not lost for Earnhardt — he is still in position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup — but the recent streak seems a little like his 2008 campaign with Hendrick Motorsports. That season, Earnhardt started strong and qualified for the Chase, but then he faded down the stretch, finishing half of the remaining races in 16th or worse.

While it's true that Earnhardt has had some bad luck as of late, the No. 88 team is facing their first sustained adversity of 2011. With the temperatures rising and the tracks getting slicker, it'll be interesting to see in which direction Earnhardt and the team respond.

NOT: You've seen entirely too much coverage of the traffic situation at Kentucky by this point, so I didn't want to re-hash that story for yet another day. Simply, I'll say this: Bruton Smith's treatment of the horrendous traffic problems is sad, really. Does it not feel like Smith & SMI knew the traffic would be bad, but opted to use it as leverage to get more state-built road infrastructure around the track? Smith, worth $1.5-billion, has long been the king of having taxpayers foot the bill for the areas around his tracks. {ysp:more}

I seriously feel bad for all involved — the diehard fans who lost the gem of their vacation time, the new fans who leave with a terrible taste of NASCAR and the track workers who apparently were completely unprepared and understaffed. None of them deserved that.

HOT: Yeah, I think Kyle Busch deserves a nod in positive direction. He did win three of the four races he competed in this weekend, including the Slinger (Wis.) Nationals. Impressive.

NOT: TNT apparently couldn't find windows for two things Saturday night: showing green-flag pit stops live and a better slot for a silly in-race Sprint advertisement that came inside of 10 laps to go. Both of those are director decisions and reflected on some pretty poor planning for a race that ran about how most expected it to.

There was also a hefty breakdown on explaining why some drivers did and didn't find themselves lapped in the late stages of the race.

NEUTRAL: Concerning TNT's broadcast decisions, they tried a new format Saturday night with race presentation. Geared to make use of nearly 90 microphones placed around the track (the usual number is roughly 40), TNT explicitly kept their announcers silent for laps at a time.

The result was frankly odd, as fans have long been accustomed to hearing analysis and explanation with regularity. Even pit stops, often the only time pit reporters are used, were mostly silent. I'm not against more exploration in an expanded audio offering, but there's a fine balance between increasing the race's technical presentation by (partly) silencing those who explain it.

Saturday night, TNT took that technical balance a little too far.

HOT: David Reutimann, an apparent fan of hot nighttime races in the midwest (see: Chicago 2010), finished second Saturday night. Astonishingly, Reutimann has just two top-10 finishes to his credit to date in 2011. He led seven laps at Kentucky — raising his season total to eight laps.

The finish was Reutimann's first real bright spot of the season, and may have eased the pain of his owner Michael Waltrip missing his home-state race. It will certainly be interesting to see how Reutimann finishes the season's second half.

NOT: Continuing our weekly watch, Jeff Burton finished 19th, extending a season-long trend of not recording a top-10. By comparison (and with 18 races to go), Burton had 15 top-10s last season.

HOT: Count me as those who would be surprised if Brad Keselowski doesn't win another race before the Chase starts. A second win and some consistency should easily bump him in to Chase contention.

Keselowski finished seventh Saturday night after leading 79 laps. And right behind him was last week's winner David Ragan in eighth. Ragan is in a strikingly good position to qualify for the Chase, now up to 15th.

LAST: It's not exactly fair to say that Kentucky Speedway's generic 1.5-mile layout was a new addition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Remember, SMI moved one of their two Atlanta races to Kentucky for this season, effectively swapping one 1.5-miler for another.

That move isn't entirely terrible, as I believe that an extremely select few tracks truly deserve two races per season. However, I'm with nearly everyone except NASCAR on this — it's time to realize these track designs simply don't promote racing that is bringing new fans to the sport.

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